Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
Beth El Congregation Sisterhood in Akron, Ohio
Temple Israel Sisterhood in Akron, Ohio
By cooking and eating the treasured family recipes of Jewish women in the Holocaust, we remember them and bring their recipes and memories to life. As a monthly kosher cooking club, participants select recipes from cookbooks, such as “In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin” and “Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival”, and cook them in a community setting. Each month we highlight the stories of different women in the Holocaust. Our hope is that this program will be an inspiration for other communities to replicate using our extensive materials as a guide.
Zikaron - Remembrance: As we lose survivors each year, the challenge of remembering the Holocaust and creating personal connections becomes increasingly difficult. The L’Chaim Cooking Club brings together a diverse group of participants each month to share the stories of women in the Holocaust and to bring their recipes to life as we sit together to eat their dishes.
L’dor Vador - Generation to Generation: Our participants range in age from bar/bat mitzvah age to 90 years old and work in small mixed age groups, making this an intergenerational program. As we cook together, we share our own experiences, family stories, and Jewish traditions.
K’hilah - Building Community: When we cook these recipes, we feel a sense of community and a connection with the women of the Holocaust. At the end of each session, we sit together to enjoy the recipes, we say a blessing, and celebrate in the company of one another. What began as a Sisterhood program at one synagogue, quickly turned into a joint partnership between two local synagogue Sisterhoods, creating friendships between the members of those synagogues. We have also reached out to unaffiliated members of the local Jewish community and non-Jewish community, including women, men, and young adults. We share cooking spaces by taking turns in different synagogue kitchens, and the responsibilities of set-up, clean-up, and selecting recipes. Recently, a third synagogue has expressed interest hosting our program. Finally, we will be having a dinner for our families to share our favorite recipes and inspiring stories.
G’vurah - Courage: Many of the recipes that we share together come from women and men who survived significant hardships at the hands of others. It was through their courage, or the courage of righteous people who helped them, that they were able to survive. These stories of courage inspire us each month as we face our daily struggles.
Many of our participants have personal connections to the Holocaust and this program gives them a unique way to honor that connection and learn more about women in the Holocaust. By working in inter-generational groups, our participants learn from each other; the younger learn from the older and the older learn from the younger. Our participants also build connections between members of different synagogues, and even people from outside the traditional sense of community. Learning about these women’s stories, we have a chance to reflect their courage and understand how to bring it into our own lives. It is in all of these ways, and more, that we make the wisdom of zikaron, l'dor vdor, k'hilah, and g'vurah accessible to our audience's lives.
The inmates at the Terezin concentration camp, like in many others, would share family recipes with each other to spread hope for their futures, because it brought them a sense of normalcy and reminded them of their self-worth as caretakers for their families. By doing this it brought them together as a community. In a similar way, the L’Chaim Cooking Club has impacted our participants by cooking and discussing these recipes. Participants have been able to share or learn and improve cooking and baking skills. Many of our participants have brought recipes home to make for their families, and shared these women's Holocaust stories with their families and friends. Our program has helped to create new bridges and friendships between members of different synagogues in our community, and beyond. It has been an interesting challenge learning about the food that people used to make, the techniques they used, and how they were able to feed their families using what they had access to. We often wonder if this is how our great-grandmother would prepare this dish for her family. People who return also bring their friends, who may not have even been interested in the group. This shows that the sense of community is real for the participants, and they want to share it with their friends.
Food is often at the center of so many Jewish traditions and customs. Food nourishes our body, just as Torah nourishes our soul and spirit. Every meal starts and ends with a blessing. Every holiday has its special foods, each with a symbolism that enriches our holiday celebration. The Torah teaches us to be mindful of what and how we eat and to follow the laws of kashrut.
The dinner table holds a special place in Judaism, especially the Shabbat table. According to the rabbis in the Talmud, after the destruction of the Holy Temple, our family table replaced the table and the alter from the Temple. When we sit together in gratitude to God and share a meal with blessings, study, and good fellowship, we are creating an opportunity to come closer to God.
Before the Holocaust women's lives centered on their responsibility to provide healthy, nourishing meals for their families. With pride and delight they prepared special meals for Shabbat and holidays. During the Holocaust there were times that just the thought of treasured recipes and family meals and traditions were all that women had to cling to. Memories of these meals helped bond the women together and helped them hold on to their faith through times of great suffering.
Jewish tradition also teaches us the importance of remembering and being connected to our ancestors and the Jewish people throughout our history. We know that it is our sacred obligation to remember the Holocaust and find ways to honor the memory of those who died and the courage of those who survived, and to tell their stories to the next generation.
At the Passover Seder we leave a special chair and invite the Prophet Elijah to come and join our Seder. At our L'Chaim Cooking Club each month we invite the nourishing spirit of the Jewish women of the Holocaust to join us and help our hands and hearts bring to life the delicious foods that they once prepared in their kitchens.
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